Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Schonborn for the CDF?

It is being suggested that Cardinal Schonborn is to take over the CDF (see here). I cannot feel comfortable with that, for although Cardinal Schonborn took part in the drawing up of the Catechism, he appears to display more of a loyalty to the person of the Pope rather than the Papacy itself (and its duty to defend Doctrine). I say this because Cardinal Schonborn was loyal to the Catechism when St. John-Paul II and Benedict XVI occupied the See of Peter, but appears to have become pro-homosexual under Pope Francis. We do not want someone who blows with the wind of whoever occupies the See of Peter, but someone who recognises that the role of the CDF -and of the Pope- is to protect the Deposit of Faith committed to the Church by Our Lord, not alter it, and that Deposit is under threat from many today.

We need only look to see that even some of our Bishops and priests have supported the (actually impossible) civil ‘union’ of homosexual persons in recent years to detect the threats to the Faith. I do not so much fear the Popes, Bishops and priests who abandon their role of defending The Faith; rather, I fear for the souls of such Popes, Bishops and priests -and the souls of their sheep. The Church is being persecuted by secular society for holding to her Doctrinal Deposit (it is now very difficult to wear a crucifix at work without risking dismissal; difficult to refuse to register a civil union etc), and we need solid shepherds to guide us. Sadly, the Church is not replete with such shepherds.

Sadly, for many of today’s shepherds, pastoral care means ignoring the Truth and refusing to apply the Truth so that offence is not given and emotions are not hurt. In the process, however, they are not simply hurting souls, but killing souls -and if they cannot see that then they have lost the faith, swapping it for belief in a Triune God to whom Truth means nothing, and who came to earth to conquer social sin while ignoring personal (individual sin). In this they can be seen to have lost all belief in a personal God (who is not interested in individual persons but societies) and as such, they cannot lead the people into a personal relationship with God. 

We need to pray for our shepherds; we need to pray that they will love Truth and have the courage to proclaim it in the face of a hostile world (Jn.15v18; 17v14). It is not enough that their hearts are good and in the right place; they also have to love and promote Truth -Who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13v8).

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Week of Priesthood

During the past week I had the privilege of being at the Solemn High Mass of a newly ordained priest, Fr James Mawdsley. Speaking to him after Mass I advised him,

 “You were not led blindfolded and handcuffed to the sanctuary as into a Burmese prison*, rather they have been tied together in prayer and in Christ. Never get used to being a priest; we can get so caught up with the busyness of parish life, and we celebrate Mass so frequently (daily) that it can become routine: never lose the wonder that fills the soul on the day of ordination and the celebration of your first Mass”. I hope Father never gets used to being a priest. I hope that what happens when we celebrate our First Mass is repeated at every Mass we celebrate: that we (hopefully) catch ourselves thinking, “This is God in my hands…who am I that the Lord should descend from heaven at my word to offer Himself to the Father on my/our behalf?”

It was a glorious evening, and Father preached a superb homily. I hope I am faithful to the content and thrust of Father’s sermon when I say that he reminded us that the Church is currently embattled by storms from within and without; that we should never forget the Pope is Successor to Saint Peter, but that even Peter can lose faith and sink into the water rather than walk upon it. He reminded us that we must pray very much for the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and for the Church, amid the storms of today. He reminded us that secular forces are lined-up against the Church and the Gospel, and that these forces must be fought. He reminded us that Islam, which describes itself as a religion of peace, harbours fundamentalism which engages in terrorism, and that such forces must also be resisted. All of this is done only in the faith of Christ (who alone is the Way, the Truth, the Life -and our lasting peace, one might add). After Mass I observed a discussion between a lady and a young layman; they were debating Father having singled out the Muslim Faith for comment. Had the young man not been doing so well I might have interjected that there is a single religion wherein fundamentalists are beheading Christians on beaches, putting bombs on undergrounds and flying planes into buildings; the Muslim Faith, so it was right to single it out. It would have been unjust for Father to add Buddhists, Jews, Hindu's or any other faith to the list of forces to be resisted.

Today I attended Mass in thanksgiving for a priest’s 60 years of priesthood; this is the priest who instructed me in The Faith and handed on a great love for the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy sacrifice of the Mass (though he did not at all approve of the Traditional Rite); this is the priest who vested me at my ordination, and whom I thus regard as my father in the faith. He is poorly these days, but his love for the Lord, the Eucharist and the people of God still shines out of him. I remember spending six months with him while completing a course of study, and going into a dark Church one winter morning at 5am to discover he was already there, prostrate before the tabernacle. He once told me he offered his recitation of the Divine Office every day for priests who do not pray.

I have no doubt that all our priests are sincere men with the good of the people at heart, but I do wonder if they have lost the sense of the priesthood: the Novus Ordo is so often offered in a perfunctory manner as though it were nothing more than a celebration and affirmation of the community (hence the recent anger at the suggestion we face the apse for the celebration of Mass, since it is not people-focused). Meanwhile, Confession has become counselling, while preaching has become an exhortation to social work. All of this makes today’s Catholics feel good about themselves in that [1] the Mass is now about affirming them, rather than a propitiation for their sins; [2] their rightful feelings of guilt are removed by their reconciliation therapy rather than the real guilt of sin removed by Confession with repentance and absolution; [3] they can forget about personal sin and focus instead upon social sin (social injustice). How far we have gone in the last 60 years from the worship of God and the salvation of souls.

Until we regain the wonder of the priesthood that I advised Father Mawdsley not to lose; until we again put God at the centre of the Mass, and until we once again guide people to personal holiness by confession, repentance, absolution and amendment of life, we will not save many souls. It all hangs on whether or not the priest comprehends the sacrality of his office and the beauty of the ministry he performs in the Person of Christ. This week’s celebrations have reminded me yet again of the wonder of the ministry to which God called me, and which is nicely captured in the following famous poem by an unknown author:

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life's early morning,
we need them again at its close;
we feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
we seek them when tasting life's woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
and the hands of a king on his throne
are not equal to them in their greatness:
their dignity stands all alone.
And when we are tempted and wander
to pathways of shame and of sin,
it's the hand of a priest will absolve us
--not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life's partner,
other hands may prepare us a feast,
but the hand that will bless and unite us
is the beautiful hand of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy
for the Host which their fingers caress;
what can a poor sinner do better
than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us
may our courage and strength be increased
by seeing raised o’er us in pardon
 the beautiful hands of a priest!

*Read Father's story in his Book, "The Heart must break".

Monday, 4 July 2016

A Bull In A China Shop

I have always felt rather unwelcome by the liberal elite in the parishes, and irritating to the many of the clergy: I was a maverick simply by being loyal to the Catechism, the Code and liturgical rubrics (it is not so much strange but disturbing that by conforming one becomes a non-conformist). I did perhaps go about my ministry like the proverbial ‘Bull in a China Shop’ in that I simply discussed the norms at the RCIA, preached on the use of Latin, ad-orientem, etc., at Mass, placed notices in the Bulletin giving references for such things, and dates when such things would become part of our liturgy. In my naivety I presumed such education would disable prejudice against such things, but it did not: it created hostility in a few parishioners because “no one else is doing this –why should we? You’re taking us backwards.” I went ahead anyway, and in that sense was like the proverbial 'Bull in a China Shop': I perhaps dragged the few hostiles along rather than took them along, yet I was simply trying to ensure liturgy was solemn and reverent so as to inspire the folk with a reverence for God; to ensure the Catechism was preached in line with Tradition so the folk would know The Truth and thereby avoid capture by the Father of Lies, and ensure I was always available to folk in crisis situations.

We had a chance to get the whole Church back on track doctrinally and liturgically in 2013 when Francis was elected, since John-Paul II had clarified Doctrine by promulgating the post-Vatican II Catechism (after world-wide consultation of the Bishops) and set stabilisers for the liturgy via the CDF/CDW in Redemptionis Sacramentum. Francis, sadly, is undermining all of this. He too has become a ‘bull in a china shop’.

Sadly, two young people spoke to me recently about very nearly giving up The Faith: “How can I believe in a Church that undermines its doctrine at the very highest levels and takes no care to offer a liturgy that evokes adoration of God?” I could only tell them that we have a Pope and with a good heart but perhaps an imprudent way of speaking off-the-cuff. I also reminded them that he has not officially imposed any new teaching that would make him heretical (an Apostolic Exhortation such as Amoris Laetitia is not a teaching document), nor has he damaged liturgy in any way that would render it invalid. I added that perhaps the problem is the secular mainstream media, which has no idea that the Pope is not a CEO who can change doctrine or impose incongruent practices at will, but simply a caretaker with the job of defending the Deposit of Faith. The MSM take and run with his off-the-cuff remarks as though they were now the direction of the Church. Sadly, the problem this creates is compounded by uninformed and by liberal Catholics (lay and ordained) also seeing Francis’s remarks as a new direction for the Church. They aren’t, and cannot be: he is simply the supreme Defender of the Deposit of Faith.

Finally, I suggested to the two young people that we are simply in a period of instability comparable to the Arian Crisis, and the best thing we can do is to stay in the Barque of Peter to help stabilise her, not jump overboard where we can do nothing to prevent her sinking. Times like today really test our faith at a human level, but our Faith must be deeper than that; we must hang on even when all seems lost: today is not the end of the Church; crucifixion is not the end of the story. Resurrection to new life is just down the road…perhaps we should all hang on to the reality of the Resurrection.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Hexam & Newcastle Rachel's Vineyard Awaresness Afternoon

Text Version:

Rachel’s Vineyard UK will be running an awareness presentation to the priests, deacons and chaplains of the Hexham and Newcastle diocese on Thursday 7th July 2016 at St Cuthbert's chaplaincy, Durham City. It will take place 1 - 3 pm. Food and drink will be provided.

If you are unable to attend please feel free to nominate a lay representative.

Rachel's Vineyard provides weekend healing retreats for women (and men) suffering from post-abortion trauma. This trauma manifests in so many ways: self loathing, addictions, abusive relationships, PTSD symptoms, emotional and spiritual paralysis. The purpose of this presentation is to help give you insight to this ministry and to help you respond with confidence to those who are suffering in this way. You will be glad to hear that we will be running a weekend in the North-East for the first time this October and would like your help to reach out to those in desperate need. Your prayers for the continued success of this work are appreciated greatly.

For further details and testimonies from those who have attended the weekend please visit our website: www.rachelsvineyard.org.uk

To book your place or for more information please contact Helen Salomon on 07786 505577 or email: helen@rachelsvineyard.org.uk

Sunday, 5 June 2016


I did not realise it was so long since I had posted anything or checked the comment box. Please accept my apologies. I am blogging today because I keep getting asked about Amoris Laetitia, and I want to make a comment on the wider situation.

First that footnote. This need not worry us, because AS isn't a teaching document nor a legal document; it is a pastoral document. Yes it may lead some to admit those in irregular unions to Holy Communion -which is wrong and dangerous to their souls of all involved- but let us not kid ourselves: such has been going on for years anyway.

Second, Francis himself. Yes the man gives conflicting messages and sometimes says things that are difficult (if at all possible) to reconcile with the Doctrine of the Faith (see www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/confusing-even-the-elect-the-troubling-statements-of-pope-francis where John-Henry Westen has recounted some of these for us) but vilification of the man is, I think, lacking in charity. And where charity is absent, God is absent, since God is charity: Deus caritas est. If we have a Pope who lacks theological astuteness, we cannot blame him for being a poor pope: we have to lay the blame with the enemy, who persuaded the Cardinals to go in the direction of Francis in the conclave.

What I see in Francis is typical of priests from the 1970’s onward; priests who tried to make everyone, including those in irregular unions, feel good about their relationship with Christ, even if it meant ignoring doctrine so as to admit such folk to Holy Communion. From my conversations with a number of priests, I think they did and do this on the basis that they are breaking man-made canon law. They do not see themselves as abandoning the faith. I think the same has to be said of Francis. The man clearly has a good heart; he just lacks theological sharpness –probably due to the formation the Jesuit received. Let us at least give the man credit for meaning well, even if we do have to confront him in charity, as Paul confronted Peter.

Sadly, the Jesuits and the catholic Church itself have an identity crisis that Francis is not going to be able resolve. http://spectator.org/64206_corruption-faith/

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Health and Ministry

I apologise for the dearth of posts recently but I developed yet another infective exacerbation of my COPD for which my General Practitioner referred me to the local Consultant Respiratory Physician. Due to the frequent exacerbations and clubbing of the fingers (you can look that one up!) a CT of the chest was arranged. Thankfully no malignancy was detected but there is evidence of Bronchiectasis (look that one up too!). Culture & Sensitivity tests of sputum revealed two bacteria colonising the lungs, so I am to begin Azithromycin three times a week if my sputum is negative for AFB’s.

All in all, due to increasing breathlessness and coughing bouts during Holy Mass (and nothing to do with my coronary vents last years), being a vector for disease to the housebound who are already health-compromised, it was clear I was not well enough to continue in parish ministry and I have had to retire on health grounds. The hope is that being relieved of parish pressures will preserve what health I have (COPD is not a disease where recovery is possible; it follows a downward trend that at best can be slowed, but not reversed).

Leaving parish ministry has been a very hard decision to make; not being in direct parish ministry is not an easy thing with which to live. I became a priest to support the people of God in their crisis moments; provide them with a liturgy that was God-centred, and teaching that was faithful to the Magisterium.  To have left this work for the people of God behind is a real bereavement for me. I struggled with the idea of a younger priest retiring from parish work as I have the belief that we should ‘die with our boots on’, but when you one is carrying in one’s respiratory system more than one bug which can be passed to the housebound and vulnerable, one becomes a threat to the health and welfare of those one is attempting to support, so my own desire to struggle on took second place.

While my Bishop is probably pleased to be relieved of a priest who became a maverick simply by holding to the red of the Missal and the letter of the catechism, I have to say that he has been most supportive, and I have no doubt about his genuine desire to seek the good of his priests and the people of the Diocese. I continue to say Mass privately where my cough bothers no one but me and any server, so Masses to which I have committed myself are still being offered; what I cannot do is say on which days I will be offering Holy Mass, since some days the breathlessness is worse than on other days.

Monday, 18 April 2016

True Romance: chastely does it

At the weekend I heard an excellent homily in which the priest spoke frankly and with insight and orthodoxy about the necessity and benefits of chastity, both spiritually, practically and interpersonally.  One of the points which resonated was that a lack of chastity in any relationship, be it a marriage, dating or within single/consecrated life, will poison it and stunt its growth – sometimes permanently, I hazard to add – by marking a point at which we cease to see one another as persons whom we long to know and be known by in increasing fullness and integrity and, asserting that we’ve passed the turnstile and  ‘begun a romantic relationship’, all but cease seeking to deepen our ‘knowing’, and begin unwittingly[?] treating each other as objects; entities whose persona is irrelevant, for “gratification comes first”.

But what do I mean by a lack of chastity? After all, surely we all know to avoid such things as fornication, lustful thoughts, speech, pornography, inappropriate touching etc. ...  Indeed we hopefully do; and we would probably never convict ourselves of using the body of another for our own selfish means, or of lusting after him/her.  But what if it occurred in a manner, and under the belief, that it appeared to be a ‘good’?  Isn’t that how Satan tempted our first parents, by suggesting they would become more like God in whose good image they were created?

Isn’t that what many can do but have been conditioned not to recognise, and even to see it as a good to be aspired towards?  As with any good and holy thing in this world, the Father of Lies will attempt to distort the development of love between a man and a woman in an occult, subtle way.  He seldom tempts an honest man with an impulse to rob a bank, or a chaste spouse to leave his family in search of a mistress.  Faced with such glaring temptations, he knows we would immediately recognise them as wicked and reject them.  So instead he corrupts our will in piecemeal fashion; gradually tempting us toward lesser sins in increasing gravity until our wills are so weakened and damaged that, like a snowball rolling down a debris-strewn slope, we numbly assimilate anything that approaches.  And since we can only love another to the degree that we know and recognise them as persons, what better way of undermining the strength and love of a marriage than by impeding spouses’ knowledge of one another?  But only a fool would expect success by nicking away at a well established marriage: an oak grown thick and sturdy under the nourishment of grace.  Instead, why not poison it as a sapling?  Why not impede relationships at their earliest point: friendship and dating?  How?  By introverting our gaze; the essence of all sin: the turning towards self.

Now, almost all of us have probably experienced the excitement –albeit of lesser frequency in the current spiritual climate– of meeting new persons with whom we see eye to eye on matters of The Faith and whose personality we initially strike a rapport with: each person enjoys the spiritual and intellectual stimulation and the germinating bond that comes with sharing who they are: their pasts, presents, future aspirations; their joys, struggles, tastes and dislikes.  Conversations can seem endless; joint prayer, enriching.  And it is upon such foundations that grace works to produce a solid bedrock of mutual respect, admiration and love; a base which, though injury, sickness or distance assail and impede physical contact, cannot be fractured, for it is a union of persons, whose minds and hearts know and embrace one another with strength, and a willed permanency no hug or kiss could match.

However, I think such a real and truly good enjoyment of another person has been undermined by the subtle introduction of secular ideologies and praxes into Catholic dating.  Though many laugh and scorn historic courting practices like chaperoning and avoiding ‘unnecessary’ touching et.al in favour of ‘modern’ courtship, I cannot help but see their comprehensive rejection as detrimental.  Rather than esteeming the increasing rapport and growing understanding of one another’s needs and preferences (and the discernment they facilitate, not to mention the ability to show true –affectionately charitable– ‘romance’) that come with conversations and activities shared, many seem to have ascribed a huge and unhealthy importance to things like beginning to hold hands, cuddling whilst watching a movie, and ‘the first kiss’, as though they were intrinsic to love or dating relationships with mutual affection.  Even to the point of acting contrary to their own personality because of pressure from unwritten rules to be ‘forward’ lest they appear lacking in confidence or feelings of attraction, or come across as is pejoratively termed, ‘puritanical’ or ‘prudish’.  Many men and women seem led to believe that without romantic kissing ASAP, “They’re just not that into you”.

And so a man’s gaze can be diverted practically by focusing on choosing the ‘right moment to make a move’ in order to secure his date and assert his manhood, rather than enjoying dialogue; and spiritually because the life of grace in his soul risks being undermined as concupiscent lustful appetites are fed rather than mastered.  Whilst a woman’s gaze can equally risk being diverted spiritually; and practically, by seeing the absence of kissing as either a lack in masculinity, confidence (noted as a major attractive quality) or a slight against her value and beauty as a woman.

But is a kiss during dating truly necessary and a sign that we care for and respect another person, or simply a way in which both parties enjoy carnal delight.  I suspect the latter.  After all, the joining of lips is not necessary in order to express affection or to get know a person.  And let’s not kid ourselves that saintly selflessness and purity are the driving forces: true, people may indeed come to admire and esteem one another highly, but the ivy of lust can grow alongside such goods and strangle them. 

It seems to me both more charitable, holy and fruitful for dating Catholics to agree to abstain from romantic kisses.  From prayer and discussion, I believe it will preserve and foster the virtue of chastity and self-mastery and prevent us seeing one another as simply members of the opposite sex to be enjoyed.  That it will prevent hastily-formed emotional bonds which are painful when broken, and instead allow focusing upon the development of mutual interpersonal knowledge without the emotional fog which follows in the wake of seizing upon a tangibly defined ‘romantic relationship’ before coming to know one another as individuals and discerning whether each actually wants to consider courtship towards marriage.  That it will allow for development as individuals in our ability to gain pleasure from innocent things like conversation and shared activities; and that it will ultimately benefit our marriages and families, because marriages can be entered with persons who are known and valued independently of the contours of their bodies or sensations experienced, and with whom both can be shared greater certainty of being ‘well-suited’ for the Pilgrimage to Heaven: for raising holy families and growing in sanctity and love in the presence and assistance of one whose company is truly enjoyed and treasured.

And of those who would insist that kissing whilst dating remains a romantic necessity, I would ask,  “Is it really asserted from a convinced conscience as a requirement; or rather because, ‘I want to.’ ? Because isn’t that the essence of self-will we’ve discussed: “I will do this, because I want to”?  There are numerous ways to demonstrate affection and be romantic without it: opening doors, genuinely asking how the person feels in given situations, ensuring they are warm/comfortable, buying treats that they enjoy, learning about their hobbies and interests, listening to their stories or opinions...to name but a few.  And let’s not forget the spiritual aspect of praying together; or of praying privately for the person; offering sacrifices and penances for them and their intentions, howsoever small the act may seem.  It may be giving up a biscuit; allowing your shirt/blouse sleeve to stay, unbeknownst to anyone else, in that irritating ruffled position when you put a jumper on; pausing your music in the car until you’ve passed the next on-ramp; not savouring that last little bit of jam that fell from your scone onto the plate...because when united to Christ’s Precious Blood, even the smallest good things gain infinite value.  Let’s not forget that St. Therese’s motto of ‘Doing little things with great love’ is not a flowery, dilute way of resigning oneself to offering shop-soiled sacrifices to God, but a way of great heroism and trust that, as Fr. Dickson has often said, “For every mile we walk, God will walk three”.  We do worship a God who multiplied a few loaves and fish to feed thousands!